July 27, 2018

You Need to Blow Up Your Approach to B2B Marketing

Brent Adamson has a bone to pick with marketers: the way many of them define their industry is miles off the mark. In fact, Brent may want to abandon the term ‘marketing’ altogether, because too often the notion of separate marketing and sales departments breeds a lack of coordination. If your marketing and sales teams are not in perfect lockstep, you can count on your business suffering. If you disagree, maybe he can sway you in part 2 of his interview.

In today’s conclusion to the interview, Brent and Drew get at to the heart of how a marketing team needs to operate to be successful, and it involves a lot more than handing leads off to sales like a relay-race baton. Brent will talk the listener through seven tools that can help make speed up the process of connecting a customer with a product. Then, Drew and Brent talk through the buyer enablement journey, and why breaking down walls between sales and marketing will enable the teams make it as easy as possible for the customer to buy. In the end, that’s goal number one.

This episode is chock full of wisdom to help you shed some outdated notions of marketing and sales, click here to listen!

What You’ll Learn

Marketing and sales collaboration is the wave of the future – here’s why

Brent wants every marketer to understand that the role of every B2B business is to make buying easier for the customer. This is achieved through a high level of marketing and sales collaboration. Gone are the days where marketers can simply hand off a prospect to the sales department and hope for the best. If a company knits together the two departments, they will have a competitive advantage over every other business in the industry.

Where do buyers look for information validation?

During the purchase journey, a buyer is always seeking for validation on the information they receive. After speaking with a sales representative, there are 3 main places where they will look for validation:

  1. The company’s website
  2. SEO organic searches
  3. A third-party analyst/thought leader

That’s why it’s so important for companies to be unified in the way they deliver information and lay out why their solution is the best available. If a buyer receives mixed information, they’re less like to choose your solution.

The 7 main tools that enhance buyer enablement

A B2B company with linked marketing and sales departments can work together to create tools that help a customer make easier buying decisions. There are 7 main categories of tools that can be explored.

  1. Calculators
  2. Simulators
  3. Recommenders
  4. Benchmarks
  5. Connectors
  6. Advisors
  7. Diagnostics

These tools ultimately allow the customer to choose the best solution to their problem. Brent explains that there is a “huge commercial benefit” to providing tools that make a customer’s life easier, and companies can see increased loyalty from customers after they use these tools.


  • [1:40] Marketing has a new role – make it easier for the customer to buy
  • [4:24] Buyer enablement takes the form of these 7 tools
  • [10:14] You can’t fit these ideas into legacy structures for companies and brands
  • [14:20] This is the #1 place customers look for information validation
  • [23:34] Why you should be excited about the upcoming Gartner conference

Connect With Brent:

Resources & People Mentioned

Connect with Drew

Full Transcript: Drew Neisser in conversation with Brent Adamson

Drew Neisser: Hey, it’s Drew, and this is part two of my interview with Brent Adamson. He’s the co-author of The Challenger Sale, a book I highly recommend. He is also a principal executive adviser for the sales and marketing practice at Gartner which was formally CEB. He serves in that role as their chief storyteller. We get into a lot of stories and in this part, we really get into the nitty-gritty of how to rethink your sales and marketing process. He is a strong believer and advocate for an alternative approach to marketing.

It’s almost like he doesn’t even want to use the term because sales or marketing need to be working in lockstep. There can’t be this handoff. It has to be about making it easy for the customer to buy. If marketing has a role, it’s developing a lot of the tools that will enable this process and make it easy for the customer to buy. Have a listen. I think you’re going to really find Part 2 as instructive as Part 1.

Drew Neisser: We’re back with Brent Adamson of Gartner. We’ve been talking about how a marketing and sales organization can become a buying coach and do the things that make it easier for your customers. Marketing has a new role, which is to make it easy to buy. One of the things that some brands are afraid to do is, for example, put up comparison charts. Here’s our product versus other products. This is something that, then, the buyer has to do on their own. They’re going to do it, so shouldn’t that be, for example, a very standard thing? “Here are the companies that we are competing with. Here is a lineup of benefits and features and how we stack up.”

Brent Adamson: It’s funny. There are a couple of places we can jump in and there are a lot of complex ideas at play here. Apologies if we jump around a little bit. The one thing I’d say real quick is that the role of marketing is to make it easier to buy. We would say that’s the role of sales, also.

This goes back to the very top of our conversation which is that the role of commercial organizations is to make it easier to buy. in fact, we’ve given this approach a name. We call this “buyer enablement.” I had to create a function today that’s the function I would create—the buyer enablement function.

Getting more brass tacks around this—if we’re going to enable buyers to buy, the first thing we’ve got to understand is what’s hard about buying? One of the things that’s hard about buying is that the job they need to complete is that comparison shopping, getting all the information side by side. To your point, one way or another, they’re going to do it.

We get in these debates at our meetings when we have CMOs or CSOs in a room. It’s like “I don’t know if I want to put all that information out there on digital because if my competitors can see it, they’re going to use it against me.” What do you think’s happening right now anyway? Hopefully I don’t say it quite so snarkily because that wasn’t very cool. But we all know it’s happening. I guess that’s why I get so confused by it in some ways.

If you point it out to marketers, it’s like, “Yeah, we know it’s happening” Well then, why do you make it hard? “Because we’re worried.” By the way, I do understand this stuff is incredibly disruptive and I think we’re all a little worried, but that doesn’t mean that we can sit on the fence, right? We’re not makers on this. We are all takers on this. This is the way the world is going, so I think the sooner we all figure out how to adapt to this new reality, the better. Just hunkering down and saying, “Well, I’m not going to go on this ride” is probably not a very effective strategy. You can’t just hold your information close to your vest in a world that’s awash in information.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, good luck with that. We’ve got an example of making buyer enablement with a comparison chart. Are there some other examples of simple things like that? Is it a video demo? Live chat?

Brent Adamson: We’ve boiled down buyer enablement into 7 “form factors.” This is going to sound very high level because it’s actually intended to be very high level. If you think about the form that your buyer enablement takes, it’s probably one of seven things. It’s a calculator. It’s a simulator. It’s a recommender. It’s a benchmark. It’s something we call a connector, an advisor, or a diagnostic.

We can dig into some of this if you want. This is where we spend a lot of time with our clients. Understanding what those are, what’s the blueprint, what’s the design principle, what are examples, and what are companies doing that are particularly advanced on these kinds of things. To give an example, think of a calculator. What’s nice about a calculator—and we all know what a calculator is, of course—but the reason why it’s nice as a buyer enablement tool is because it allows your customer in a very simple way to model numbers, to analyze data in a very structured fashion.

Now, you could have a very complicated calculator. Someone at a meeting in San Francisco two weeks ago said, “Look, we built a calculator. We want it to be so convincing it was going to calculate the cost of inaction to the fifth decimal place.” It was going to be so accurate that no one could deny that the logic and the story of the calculator. The trouble is, in order to get that level of accuracy, they had to have all of these different scenarios and they made it really complicated. No one ever used it because it was too hard.

Drew Neisser: But it was brilliant.

Brent Adamson: But it was brilliant! But remember what we’re solving for here. What’s the number one thing we’re solving for in this world? Make it easier. Number one before anything else, whether it’s a calculator or some sort of benchmark or some sort of diagnostic, you’ve got to run it through what I call the “ease-o-meter.” It’s totally made up, I know. But are the tools, the information that we are creating and delivering to the marketplace through digital and in-person channels specifically designed with a view towards making the buying journey—which is very hard—in some material fashion, easier? Does it help us make a quick calculation? A simulator, for example, helps us imagine what that solution might look like in our specific context.

A recommender asks for three or four pieces of information and gives you a recommendation of a course of action as a result. A connector tool of buyer enablement is information that you provide to your customers that helps them understand the other stakeholders that need to be involved. For that marketer buying the ABM solution, a connector tool I might find on a website says: “Look, in order for you to successfully buy this ABM tool that you want so much, you’re going to have to get sales on board. Here will be their top two objections, here’s how you get them on board, here’s the data you need to make that argument. You’re going to have to get procurement on board. Here’s when to get them onboard. Here’s what they’re going to say when you try to get them on board. Here’s how to counteract their objections. Here’s the data you need to make that happen, Here’s the language you should use.”

It’s step-by-step guidance that helps you connect to the other stakeholders in your own company to make that purchase happen. When you find that as a customer, as a CMO trying to buy an ABM solution, your reaction should not be “Hey, I see what you’re trying to do there. Tricking me into buying your solution.” Rather, your reaction should be “I’m so glad I found this tool because you just made my life so much easier. You just saved me hours of work and headaches in my own organization. I really appreciate that.”

What we find is when suppliers provide that kind of help, there is a massive commercial benefit to them as a result because customers are not only more likely to buy bigger solutions as a result, they’re likely to have less regret of the solution they buy and they’re more likely to buy it actually from you.

Drew Neisser: Ten years ago, we started using the phrase “marketing as service,” where your marketing is, in fact, exactly as you just described. It’s creating things that have inherent value in and of themselves. Then, marketing is no longer that stuff that you want to delete or hide. It’s marketing that’s actually information that’s useful.

Brent Adamson: Do you see how far we’ve gotten from your earlier question about brand? Again—I’ve got to be super careful—brand is hugely important. I don’t mean to belittle it, but a brand team, a team that’s focused on building brand, isn’t necessarily going to do this or at least isn’t naturally going to do this. It’s totally different.

Yet all the content marketing that we’re all doing in the name of marketing—the white papers and the blog posts and the content machine and the top trends for 2018—none of that solves for this either. None of that is specifically designed to make the six jobs that customers have to complete to their satisfaction to get the purchase done easier. When you go out in nature and you look for this kind of buyer enablement, you don’t actually find it in marketing. You find it in sales. You find it produced by a sales enablement team, not as a customer tool, but as a sales tool.

More often than not, where you really find it is when some sales rep out there on his or her own who has been trying to sell and is getting really frustrated created some sort of rogue calculator or some spreadsheet that they have found to be particularly valuable in convincing a customer of a particular viewpoint. In most organizations, when we find that kind of stuff, we squash it. We squelch and say it’s not brand compliant. What we’re finding is that the companies that are beginning to do this well are going out and searching. They turn their company upside down and shake it and look for buyer enablement to fall out from wherever it may come from. Breathe life into it, make it brand-compliant, figure out the underlying assumptions, make sure they’re accurate, and then put it on your website. Make it a tool. Put it in the hands of your sales reps. Put it into the channels where your customers are most likely to seek it, which is multiple.

Drew Neisser: Yes. All of that makes sense. I think all of this is in the context of “and” when it comes to brand. I’ll tell you why. We say that ultimately, all brands exist to service customers one way or another. That’s why they exist. All positionings are, in some way, about enabling customers in some way. It may be a mythical dream, right? It could be “drink this beer and get the partner you were looking for because you suddenly look cooler” It may be this, but it’s still always a promise of something to a consumer. What’s interesting about what you’re talking about here, in my mind, is that I can frame it easily under brand. Easily. As long as the brand is about a promise to the customer as opposed to “we’re the best in the category.”

Brent Adamson: Maybe. I say this with a huge and deep respect for you, but I think you’re missing the breadth and the scope of what we’re talking about here. If you park it all under brand, then you’ve just parked sales under brand, which seems weird.

Drew Neisser: I didn’t mean that. I see what you’re saying. That wasn’t my intent. My intent was to simply say they are completely consistent. These don’t have to be disparate things—brand over here and you’ve got sales over here and marketing over here. I could see those align.

Brent Adamson: 100% right. when you try to force-fit these kinds of ideas into legacy organizational structures, then you get into these weird sorts of scenarios. This all falls under brand, but one of the best ways to deliver buyer enablement is through sales channels. When you try to force-fit these ideas into a legacy organizational structure, you run into dissonance pretty quickly. For what it’s worth, by the way, on the brand issue—again, I’m right there with you, brand is massively important. You’ve gotta invest in it. But what we keep finding in B2B, and specifically in B2B, every time we study brand, it’s table stakes. Companies like FedEx versus UPS. I mean who’s got the better brand? They’re both fantastic. Do you know what happens? They can be commoditized because they’re both great.

This is what we find with brand and B2B all the time. We often refer to it as the 1 of 3 Problem. The 1 of 3 Problem is, because I’ve got a world-class brand, I’m always one of the three suppliers invited to compete for the RFP where we get beat up on price anyway. I think you can always argue it’s better to be one of three than four of three. Being left out is a bad place to be, but brand will get you to the table and in business to business, it gets to the table where you get beat up on price nonetheless because the other two brands are good enough. What we’re trying to figure out is how to win higher margins, how to win the bigger deal, in a world where brand is, in itself, not enough. What we found is, you know what? The biggest opportunity is really counter-intuitive. It isn’t about your company at all, it’s about the customer’s company. It’s making buying easier.

Drew Neisser: Well, you don’t get to the 1 of 3 Problem unless you have brand. We agree with that, right? If they don’t know who you are and they don’t find you on the web. Now, they could probably discover you, but certainly, if they’ve heard of you, you have a fighting chance of being on the list. A lot higher than if they don’t know who you are.

Brent Adamson: Yeah I hear you. Go there and stop just at that point.

Drew Neisser: You can’t stop. I agree. I agree.

Brent Adamson: Pick an industry vertical. In B2B, unless you’re talking about emerging markets or you’re talking about small companies, unicorns, or something going on out in Palo Alto or something—again, if you look at the big players, the large enterprises in B2B, everybody knows who they are. If I’m in construction or electrical, it’s like Schnieder versus Eaton? Is it FedEx versus UPS? These are all well-known brands. The lists of companies we all kind of know. If you’re trying to break into that, then sure, invest in brand. But just know that brand alone will never get you past commoditization.

Drew Neisser: At one point in your six jobs, you mentioned validation. This is a question from one specific client a while back who just wasn’t sure if analysts were relevant anymore. I’m wondering if an analyst role, an influencer role, happens in this validation stage?

Brent Adamson: It’s a great question. By the way, seeing as how I work for a company full of analysts, I have to be really careful with how I answer this question. The thing that I suppose is interesting about this is, when customers look for validation of what they’re hearing from a sales rep, what we know from our research is that the number one place that they’re most likely to go is that supplier’s website, which I find somewhat ironic. Why would you go to the same company? But I think what’s happening here—

Drew Neisser: Hey fox, tell me about that henhouse.

Brent Adamson: Right! It feels a little bit like that, but it actually kind of makes sense. There’s an old saying in sales and sales is all about people buying from people. It’s all about relationships, human interaction, all that. Of course, all that stuff is still kind of true, but in today’s world that we live in, I can just do things that I couldn’t do ten years ago. One of the things I can do is go to your website and see if what you are saying as a company is consistent with what Brent the sales rep is saying as an individual. That actually kind of makes sense. The first port in the storm, the first place I’m going to look, is to make sure that the company walks the walk of the talk that the rep is talking. I may trust that rep, but I live in a world where today I can trust, but still, I can verify.

That said, there are two other places that customers are very likely to go for additional information. One is SEO. They’re going to go searching, so getting the search button down is just as important today as it ever was, if not more so. The third one is kind of where you’re at, which is a third-party analyst, the third-party thought leaders. I think to some degree that’s what we’re going to see happen going forward in B2B, more of that becoming automated. Very much like an Amazon-type thing for B2B. We’re seeing some of that come over the horizon, and some of your listeners will know about it better than others. But I think part of the reason why there’s not nearly as much of focus on third-party corroboration is because, in many industry verticals, it’s not nearly as easily available as it will be soon. Also, what I’m trying to verify is that individual. The first place I’m going to verify the individual is that company.

Drew Neisser: Interesting. You’re anticipating a world where it’s for business, like TripAdvisor where I can go and I can see 700 different ratings of said ABM company and I get my information there. Is that how the third party validation would happen?

Brent Adamson: Depending on the industry we’re talking about, we’re hearing more and more of that. Some places coming over the horizon. You get into what I call hybrid B2B/B2C financial services, insurance companies. I think we’re already living in that world. You get it in heavy manufacturing, perhaps more so. If you want to project out, though, I think you get into a completely different world altogether. I don’t know if this is 5 years, 10 years, or 15 years down the road—probably not much more—where it’s machines buying from machines. That’s super speculative, though. We already live in a world where your refrigerator can order from your toaster and get something without you doing anything. Something like that. I think that’s how that’s supposed to work. You say ‘Hey, Alexa buy milk,” and milk shows up like an hour later at your front doorstep. Talk about brand. I just ordered milk. I didn’t order branded milk. That’s a whole other story for another time.

But we’re beginning just now to see glimmers of that kind of machines buying for machines type thing happening in B2B. What’s interesting is it doesn’t mean there’s no sales in that world, but where it happens, happens farther upstream to become the default brand, the brand of choice. That’s a totally different world and I’m super intrigued by what sales and marketing is going to look like and B2B ten years from now. I think it’s going to look really different.


Drew Neisser: We’ve been talking about an enlightened perspective for brands to think of themselves as buying coaches, to make the process of buying easy. You listed seven different types of tools. You called them form factors, or things that would enable the buying process whether it’s a calculator or recommender or things like that. If these brands do all of those things, with sales and marketing working together and with consistent messages across all channels, then that marketer is going to get competitive advantage because most brands aren’t doing this. Is that a summary?

Brent Adamson: Yes. We’re going to come back to the same caveat from the top of our call. I would say not so much that the marketer has an advantage, I would say that the supplier has an advantage. I get that you’re speaking to your target audience and I’m right there with you because this is a podcast for marketers, but just notice how deeply ingrained that perspective is. We want to solve for marketing first and what I would argue is we need to solve for the supplier question as opposed to the functional question. I know that I’m calling you out for something you didn’t intend, so it’s unfair of me to say that, but I just point that out to show just how deeply ingrained these kinds of perspectives are.

Drew Neisser: You are right and I’m busted. But that’s okay! This is a show for marketers and they’re fighting for their lives right now.

Brent Adamson: I get it.

Drew Neisser: They really are. They have the toughest job in the industry. They don’t speak the same language as the CEO. They do have a powerful role. There are lots of these companies out there in B2B land that don’t have a brand, that are not FedEx and UPS. Most aren’t FedEx and UPS.

Brent Adamson: I hear you. Totally fair point.

Drew Neisser: They have to build a brand and often, they have some level of service that doesn’t fit neatly into the existing bucket, so they have a harder challenge because the customer thinks they want Widget A when, in fact, it’s not even a widget that they need. It’s a piece of software that will do what that widget did. They’re often selling in a situation where the customer may not even realize they have the problem quite yet. These are really hard challenges. Now, all of the things that you talked about making the buying journey easier are things that a lot of enlightened marketers, I would believe, would be nodding their heads and saying, “Yeah, we can do that.”

Brent Adamson: I think so. By the way, on the other challenge—had we done this podcast a year ago, in fact, we could do it tomorrow—is that your best bet in that world where your customers don’t know who your company is, don’t know your solution, or don’t understand how your technology applies to their world, that’s where this idea that we captured in The Challenger Sale and even better The Challenger Customer is this idea of what we’ve come to call commercial insight. That means providing customers insight not about your company, but about their company. That helps them think differently about ways to make money, save money, that they haven’t fully appreciated on their own. Even that’s not really about brand. What’s so interesting about this idea of insight and this idea of buyer enablement is that both of them are fundamentally supplier-agnostic. They are about the customer’s world and the customer’s view and less about ours.

Drew Neisser: We’ve established you’re not a brand guy. Period. That’s the way it is.

Brent Adamson: All I’m sayin’ is that it’s table stakes. I’d hate for anyone to invest millions and millions of dollars in brand to be surprised when they wind up getting commoditized anyway.

Drew Neisser: Hilarious. How can people find out about you without engaging with Gartner?

Brent Adamson: There are a number of different ways that people can see some of the work that we produce. Our Gartner at work website, where we put a lot of our content outside of the firewall for individuals who don’t have an existing client relationship. My videos wind up on YouTube, so you can find them there. I also write a blog post for HubSpot, so you can find our stuff there as well. But I think the best way to find out about what’s going on Gartner is to come to talk to us. It’s a bit of a sales pitch, but why not. We’d love to talk to anyone who doesn’t have a current relationship with us in sales or marketing and really take some time to share what we’ve learned and talk about what to do about all this stuff. I know I put a lot of big ideas on the table across the last 40 minutes or so. There’s a lot of implementation, a lot of technical detail that sits underneath this that’s really going to be where the proof is. In the pudding.

Drew Neisser: Sure. One of the things that I’m well both excited about and quite curious about is this influencer conference that I happen to be invited to. I’m interested in why you do it.

Brent Adamson: Absolutely. We’re super excited you’re coming! Drew, I think I just came up with four reasons in my head. One is, straight up, to the degree that you guys have these huge audiences and we put content in front of you that’s valuable for you, that gives you something to put out there to those audiences with our name attached to it. There’s the self-interest aspect of it, which turned out to be a really great sort of symbiotic relationship. You guys are all looking for more content and we’re looking for channels to market, so it actually works pretty well. That’s one.

Two is, despite the speed with which I described our research and maybe some sort of confidence, I don’t know, I think you’d find us to be actually really humble people. I mean that sincerely. We know we don’t have all the answers. We know that we don’t understand all the right questions. Getting a group of really smart people with lots of different perspectives together to think about this stuff nonstop. Let’s face it, heads of sales and heads of marketing don’t think about this stuff nonstop. They think about running their business, but we think about the big ideas like you do. it’s incredibly powerful and productive I think for everyone around the table to spend a day thinking big thoughts together in a like-minded audience.

Third reason we do it is because, honestly, it’s fun. It’s actually a lot of fun. I think you’re going to really enjoy meeting the group of people that we’ve got coming in. Everyone’s a great person, everyone’s super curious, everyone’s very engaged, and you’re going to learn a lot from each other.

Then the fourth one is that you guys don’t have many chances to talk to each other often, particularly across the sales and marketing divides. We find it’s really productive to put thought leaders and sales together, thought leaders and marketing, and we’re introducing people to each other that have never met. It creates all sorts of cool personal connections for you guys. And we all just get smarter as a result. For me, it’s just because it’s a lot of fun.

Drew Neisser: That’s great. I’m excited to be there, and through other influencer programs, you nailed all of them. Good content. But at that network effect. I’ve just made tremendous connections. IBM has done this for years and with their futurist program and I’ve just met some wonderful people. We’ve stayed in contact and helped each other and that has been one of the lingering, long-lasting benefits of the influencer program. And obviously, it does help those brands that connect with us. That’s awesome.

Drew Neisser: Well, my guest today has been Brent Adamson. We’ve just had a long and exhaustive conversation and he has repeatedly made me rethink any number of things, whether it’s talking about brand or marketing or the way marketing and sales work together. It really does come down to this notion of, it shouldn’t be a handoff. It’s got to stop. It’s got to be a collaborative effort in such that you’re all relentlessly focused on helping the customer buy the product that you’re trying to sell, and make it as easy as possible. That’s a pretty good summary, isn’t it? That’s fair?

Brent Adamson: I think that’s pretty fair. Absolutely.

Drew Neisser: Brett thank you so much for being on Renegade Thinkers Unite.

Brent Adamson: Well, Drew it was truly my pleasure and privilege. I thank you and thank you to everyone listening. I know I went all over the map a little bit, so hopefully, it was helpful and interesting. Super excited to keep the conversation going.

Drew Neisser: It was terrific. And to all of the listeners, thank you as always for hanging out with us. I so appreciate the time. Don’t forget to leave comments on the blog, on any of your favorite podcast channels. And until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.

Quotes from Brent Adamson

The role of commercial organizations is to make it easier to buy.
Make buyer enablement a tool for your sales reps and put it into the channels where your customers are most likely to seek it.
The biggest opportunity in B2B marketing isn't about your company at all, it's about the customers' companies and making buying easier.